Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2

Here are some things I learned/realized while testing out the Another Brick In The Wall method for making dungeons:

-Since half the cards include monsters or NPCs, the generated dungeons end up being very densely populated. Since the point of this variation on the W/O Walls method is to make a less funhousey, more thematically coherent dungeon, I recommend:

*Dreaming up some in-game reason, clear to the PCs, why the dungeon is full of things, or...
*Making many of the inhabitants just vermin that can be ignored unless the PCs want to do something specific in the room, or...
*Throwing some major arcana into the deck before laying down your cards, then saying they indicate a more-or-less empty room.

-It is a very good method for making dungeons with opposing factions that are hostile to each other.

-I fit the whole dungeon on a 5"x7" piece of paper. If you draw roughly about as big as I do, this is about the size of like one "level" in a good-sized metropolitan office building.

-It speeds things up if you write the name of the card in each room (for example: 3W for 3 of wands) and then, when you key the dungeon, sort the rooms according to swords, wands, and coins, then use those card names as your key, rather than renaming all the rooms Room 1, Room 2 etc.

-The method for generating doors and connecting rooms (adjacent cards/rooms that are both right-side -up or both upside-down are connected) works really nicely. It generates "paths" the players can take. Basically, the whole "main idea" of the dungeon gets worked out by looking at where the kings and queens are in relation to these "paths".

-If the player start point ends up really close to the boss(es) and this bothers you, you can create a situation where, the first time they meet, the players only see the boss. Then the boss disappears off to some spot deeper in the dungeon.

-If you don't want to make a space typical of a standard freestanding building (that is, a rectangular space divided by walls into rectangular rooms) the method has to be adapted, but the adaptation is pretty easy. You can easily stretch the thing into a more traditional tunnel-and-chamber type layout, but you might need a bigger piece of paper.

-I started out my test dungeon by trying to adapt a new version of a sort of half-assed dungeon I'd written in an hour right before a game (that I ended up not using). This was not fun. This method is way more fun if you just lay out the cards, then try to think up what kind of dungeon it is from scratch.

Though I hesitate to post my own dungeon so far, lest my players see it, Reverend Keith was kind enough to send me his results so far.

Here's Keith's original card layout plus a sketch he made using Dysonlogos' dungeon geomorphs.
His original deal: (click it for an easier-to-read verison)

Close-up of the West end:
Close-up of the East end:
Keith's geomorph sketch (click pic for bigger version):


  1. is it possible to get your pics in better res?

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Squid--
    click pics for bigger versions

  4. thanks, please drop by for a little poll

  5. Personally, I think only the face cards should be encounters that the PCs should really be worried about. The rest of the cards should still be a challenge, but shouldn't require a significant useage of resources for the PCs to survive. A 20' spiked pit or pair of orc soldiers are threatening, but they typically won't wipe out most of the party... Now that White Dragon on the other hand...

    IMO, the real issue I see isn't how many of them there are, it's when these "high threat" challenges are bunched up right next to each other. Focusing on just face cards, my dungeon has only eight signature fights which will post a challenge for the players. I've highlighted all non-Cup face cards as red on the PDF to illustrate their frequency.

    On the right side of the dungeon the Queen of Swords, Queen of Wands and Knight of Swords could pose a serious threat of death to the characters if not handled right. The players need to use their heads, and the DM should probably design the situation to give the players the possibility of success (such as having Queens being mortal enemies).

    The same is true immediately to the left of the dungeon entrance, where the Page of Swords, King of Swords, and Knight of Wands are clustered right next to each other. To help balance that, I'd say that the Knight of Wands chafes under the King of Sword's leadership, and will hold back until the PCs have killed the King of Swords or weakened it enough for it to attack.

    It's something to be aware of, but a creative DM and smart players can cope with this problem.

    Anyways, that's just my two copper.

  6. Also, I dig the idea that one can represent each tarot card as a room (like what Zak is doing) or a larger area of the dungeon (like what I did - each card got a geomorph). IMO, that scalability is a nice advantage for the DM designing the dungeon.

  7. squid--voted
    Interestingly--I was thinking about the high-dungeon-population-density issue not as a PC-survival problem, but more just as a stylistic/aesthetic one. Like if these are some forgotten ruins with forgotten treasture lying around, how'd all these people get in here?

    Like you (and I) said, either way, though, it's solveable.

  8. Here's a thought: This kind of abstract dungeon (especially with simple N/S/E/W directions) is perfect for online play (chat or play-by-post).


  9. I say go all out with a funhouse theme. This method using tarot has that great old Dungeonland vibe from back in the day. Don't get too mundane with it. As you know, tarot is about generating emotion with images both strong and subtle.

    I have an asian tarot deck that would be great to do this with Oriental Adventures. Hmmm...